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Asking the Clergy: How does your faith community help returning service members? 

The Rev. Frederick Miller of the American Legion

The Rev. Frederick Miller of the American Legion Arthur H. Clune Post 1533 in Mastic Beach, Lt. Cdr. Jeff Augustin of the 1st Marine Corps District in Garden City, and Rabbi Art Vernon of Congregation Shaaray Shalom in West Hempstead. Credit: Miller Family; U.S. Navy; Jeff Bachner

Veterans Day, on Nov. 11 this year, is intended to honor and thank all U.S. military veterans, past and present, especially those living. A number of Long Island congregations will mark the occasion with services featuring veterans and active military members. This week’s clergy discuss how their religious communities offer returning veterans spiritual guidance in readjusting to civilian life.

Lt. Cdr. Jeff Augustin

Chaplain for the 1st Marine Corps District in Garden City

Service members develop a routine of handling the stress of deployment, whether it's the constant, steel grind of ship life or an active combat zone. Upon reunion with family, it can be difficult to re-adapt.

The military offers a full palette of resources to help service members and their families conquer a variety of challenges. These resources include Samaritan's Purse: Operation Heal Our Patriots, a civilian ministry that works with churches and individuals, offering an opportunity for spiritual refreshment, physical renewal and marriage enrichment guided by professional, trained counselors.

Singles and couples return home from the biblically based seminars feeling refreshed and with the tools to succeed in relationships and life. Whether these resources are employed, the spiritual disciplines always need to be practiced. Spiritual disciplines are a kind of daily reprogramming for the mind, heart and soul. It is all too easy to drift away from God into the state mentioned in Ecclesiastes 1:2: "Meaningless! Meaningless! … Utterly meaningless.”

Without God everything is futile, a chasing after the wind. A life focused on God, however, is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 1:7) and profits an emotionally stable life (Psalm 1).  

Rabbi Art Vernon

Congregation Shaaray Shalom, West Hempstead

Many congregations have chosen to honor veterans in recent years in recognition of the growing appreciation and gratitude we all feel for those who have served and are serving in the Armed Forces. In some congregations, we also include veterans of Israel's wars because a growing population of Israelis have chosen to live in America.

The highest honor we can bestow on anyone attending our Sabbath religious services is to be called to the Torah to recite the blessings while a portion of the text is read in the original Hebrew. In addition, our congregation has invited the Merrick-Bellmore Jewish War Veterans to participate in services and a past commander will address the congregation during services. The names of all the organization’s veterans will be mentioned whether in attendance or not.

On Veteran's Day, we laud the living who served, and on Memorial Day we recall those who perished. All Americans owe a great debt to the men and women of our Armed Forces, no matter whether they served in war or in peace time. Happily, many synagogues have embraced this concept and conduct special services and programs to honor the living and recall the departed.

The Rev. Frederick Miller

Chaplain, American Legion Arthur H. Clune Post 1533 in Mastic Beach, and chairman of the Suffolk County American Legion Post-Traumatic Stress Committee

Suicide by veterans and service members is generally caused by moral injury — that is, the damage done to your conscience when you are ordered to do something that you believe goes against your moral beliefs. There is no medication for moral injury.

But the Department of Veterans Affairs is looking for clergy to help. Veterans Peer to Peer is a ministry that I founded at my American Legion Post. It was adopted by the Suffolk County American Legion. Once a month, we meet in four churches in Suffolk County and at the Long Island State Veterans Home in Stony Brook.

Having been a medic on active duty in the Air Force during the Korean conflict and afterward having served for eight years in the Air National Guard as first sergeant, I understand the way veterans talk and what a veteran needs. As a minister I have learned to help people come back to the Lord through prayer and Scripture. Our committee's primary goal is to help veterans to recover, and we have actually been able to stop about three veterans from dying by suicide.

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